3 Things School Leaders Could Stop Doing

Today’s Blog comes from an ex-secondary Headteacher, trainee therapist and Integrity Coaching Associate, Tim Small. 

In my experience of working with School Leaders, I’ve observed that when leaders find themselves struggling with the challenges of the role, they often have a common natural response. I often find that their reaction is to simply try and “step up”, to work harder and do more, perhaps believing if they just keep working harder, then eventually the challenges of the role will begin to subside.

This is a damaging attitude that can lead Heads down a path to burn-out, where many create a larger and more unsustainable workload for themselves and exacerbate their own struggles by working far beyond their hours at the expense of their own wellbeing. On top of this, many still find that the challenges they experienced are just as present as before.

Rather, I propose the best way to lighten the reality of School Leadership is not to do more and more, but instead by identifying what is it that we can do less of that can best support us in our roles. In doing so, we can help create new ways of thinking and behaving that better serve us in overcoming the struggles of our role.

In particular, I believe there are three things which many School Leaders could stop doing that can help make the role more sustainable and joyful…

1. Stop adding stuff to the agenda without taking anything off!

Many of us are good at initiating a new action or project when it aligns with our values and strategic vision.  We might call a meeting about it, ask someone to investigate and report back, agree to set up a working group, give a presentation, write a plan, make an announcement …  Do we always, as leaders, stop to think about the impact of our initiations?  Which busy people have just been asked to get even busier?
How many leadership teams have meetings to decide, creatively and responsibly, what to take off the agenda?  If we don’t do that, safely, the risk is that, sooner or later, our precious initiatives will simply run out of steam or get overtaken by the next one.  They crash off the conveyor belt as energy runs out, however important they might have been, pleasing some, disappointing others and, worst of all, damaging confidence in the efficacy of our leadership.
Worst of all, essential but unplanned priorities fall off the agenda, such as listening to people and looking after relationships.  How about some creative discussion along these lines: How we can do less marking?’  How can we shorten meetings?  What energy-sapping tasks might we do better without?  When do we announce that an initiative has come to an end?   How can we manage endings as carefully as we do beginnings?

2. Stop using negative language Sorry, I mean ‘Encourage positive language!’

If you stop and think about it, negative language can always be converted into positive.  Instead of saying ‘We must not do … anymore’, explain what would be better to do instead!  Instead of calling anything bad, name what would be good.
A wise man once told me, ‘There is no evidence that optimists are any more likely to be right than pessimists; they just have a much better time!’  If we encourage bright, hopeful, ‘half-full’ thinking and talking, we shall have a bright, hopeful, half-full atmosphere, full of ‘can-do’ attitudes and smiles.  What gets named gets noticed.
What gets attention, gets energy.  If we name the bad, we energise the bad.  When we articulate our positive, alternative reality and bring everyone’s attention to the evidence of it in practice, it grows.  Water the roses, not the weeds!

3. Stop putting everyone else’s Wellbeing before our own!

I used the cliché about ‘putting your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs’ in my blog The Three Steps to Surviving a Crisis.  It’s a cliché because it is useful enough to be often repeated.
As I said then, it is a leader’s first responsibility (not an expensive luxury) to be ‘OK’, on form, with time and mental space for people, alert, responsive, compassionate and clear, modelling the very behaviour we want children to be observing in their teachers every day.  When it comes to professional development, paid or unpaid leave on compassionate grounds, or simply time and space to reflect and recuperate, a Headteacher is every bit as deserving and needful of consideration as any other member of staff.
If it feels better, let someone else control the CPD budget, with Governor oversight, so they can include the Head’s needs in a fair allocation.  Humanity is modelled; it is not largesse!

Are You Ready to Make Your Wellbeing a Priority?

Working as a coach with School Leaders I’ve witnessed first-hand the emotional cost for School Leaders when their emotional needs are not properly met; anxiety, self-doubt, poor decision making and a diminished sense of personal and professional fulfilment.
This can’t continue. Active steps must be taken. Our profession needs to change and show that it knows how to best support our School Leaders. So that they can not only survive, but also thrive in their attempts to deliver the best outcomes for our children.
Meanwhile, for their part, our leaders must be supported to take care of themselves! One of the key elements of this is learning to ask for help, and realising that this is an act of courage, as much as it is an essential act of kindness and compassion towards oneself.
Whatever our goals, whatever our ambitions, we need help to fulfil them. So that when the going gets tough, as it always does, we don’t fall down and remain on the ground, but are supported, so that we can get back up again and, with renewed focus and energy, carry on towards our dream.
So if you want to take charge of your well-being and be supported to best meet the needs of those in your care, we are now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” calls for School Leaders to enable you to do just this.
This call will provide you with a confidential, safe, non–judgemental space to spend 30 minutes discussing how you can:
– Achieve a greater sense of clarity about your direction as a school leader
– Gain a clearer perspective on any challenges that you may be facing
– Identify positive steps for moving forward

Book Your Call

 If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!



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